U. of L. ID students and...what appears to be British action star Jason Statham and UFC commentator Joe Rogan?
Last week we mentioned the pRecycle, a human-powered, aluminum can crushing machine designed by a group of industrial design students at the University of Louisiana Lafayette. This week we've heard back from Ben Bush, their professor, who has provided images, video and an explanation of how Louisiana's local culture has informed the project.
Core77: Tell us about "pRecycling," and the impetus behind the pRecycle.
Ben Bush: "pREcycling" is a term that we use to describe the sorting of recyclables before they are sent to a reclaiming facility. We have been seeking ways to recycle aluminum, plastics, and in the future paper. Food and drink contamination along with improper sorting are a few of our biggest issues. Special vessels and the can crusher are our latest rendtion of "pREcycling efforts."
The initial driving force behind "pREcycling" was to create a business venture out of recycling. Louisiana has a giant festival culture and for good reason—it's the best food in the world! Louisiana has more than 400 festivals a year, [with most involving] food or drink. A local business owner heavily encouraged us to create concepts that would be more proficient for recycling at festivals.
Essentially, if we can get patrons to sort their goods, we won't have to send a conglomerate of recyclables to a sorting facility. Most cities like Lafayette and New Orleans send their recyclables to Baton Rouge for processing. Baton Rouge is an hour from both Lafayette and New Orleans and we know that keeping the service local would have less impact on the environment.
What stage are you at in the project's development?
Before I go any further I have to give a shout out to Grant Caplan, Chad Weaver, and Adam Traweek for designing and fabricating the can crusher.
I would say that pREcycling is still in its infancy. We are still learning tough lessons through trial and error. For example, some people placed already-crushed cans into the device, because we hadn't specified that the machine needs untampered-with empty cans. You can also imagine the smell because lots of cans weren't completely emptied before crushing.
Sadly, Louisiana doesn't have the recycling culture that say, Colorado has. So, instead of having just a product development project, we have to give a massive amount effort to design education and infographics. Louisianans aren't familiar with what we are trying to achieve and wildly successful installations are hard to come by. We are learning a lot about the patrons and they learning a lot about us.
In the YouTube video, it appears that the crushed cans just fall out of the bottom of the machine and onto the floor. Is that the intended design?
There's actually a basket [not pictured in that video] that will collect an estimated 120 crushed cans. After they are flattened, we place them into a cans-only bin.
Also in the YouTube video, it appears that not every can is crushed; the machine seems to miss a few. What will be done to address this?
There are a few approaches to this:
1. There are plans to place a governor on the pedals to prevent a user from partially crushing a can that hasn't fallen into place.
2. Another approach is to redesign the hopper system to ensure that each can will fall flat and be forcibly fed into the machine like an automatic rifle.
3. The last option is to leave it. The goal of crushing (other than brutal enjoyment) is to simply reduce the volume in the bin. The more cans we can fit in a bin, the more profit we can turn.
What are the future plans for the pRecycle machine?
The future of the can crusher is exciting. We have received a ton of positive feedback from the community. A local school called this morning and wants to use it for their "Conservation Week." We are happy to oblige! We want to rent the machine to other Louisiana festivals to educate the public that recycling can be fun, profitable, and good for the environment.
The future plans are wide open. Ideally, we would love to recycle and process on site. We would also like to collect [plastic] cups, wash them, and sell them back to the vendors. That way, we turn a profit through a service instead of solely a product. We also would like to improve on our can crusher design to make it more efficient and rewarding. Who knows? Next year we might have a half dozen "pREcycling" machines.